Category Archives: Luk

Harassment No More

November 12, 2017, 23 Sunday After Pentecost

The Rev. Luk De Volder

20171112 Harassment No More (1).pdf

Amos 5:18-24
 Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

In today’s Gospel we just heard that “Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise ” In this time of daily #hashtag-metoo harassment complaints on the internet this scene sounds so not kosher. A bridegroom reviewing ten bridesmaids and judging their wisdom level? Honestly, I did not select this text for today. So wish me luck in dealing with this Gospel. Not to mention, I am standing here as a white male, a white tall man in the US – I had to learn what this entails. But here we are confronted with this wrestling match of a text from Jesus’ time in which cultural status-quos and taboos seem to be preserved while also sending an appeal to declare a key step for exodus from oppression. Let’s take a look and see how far we come.

This text sounds so difficult for us today, because no one can escape the wave of excruciating personal stories pouring in from across all industries and many countries around the world, denouncing against assault and harassment of women. Maureen Sherry just published her own story about what happened at Bear Stearns Bank (a semi-autobiographical book, entitled “Opening Belle”), where she started the Glass Ceiling Club, at the end of the 1990s, with reason using nicknames as a women whisper network. Initially the club was meant to discuss how to make the workplace more female friendly. Quickly the whisper network started functioning as a warning mechanism to alert female colleagues about male harassers. But at the same time, the network also experienced the dangers that women faced in addressing bosses who scoff at maternity leave, managers using ribald jokes, colleagues with outrageous behavior that went unchecked. The whisper alerts remained underground because of the danger of retaliation, being fired, being sidelined, being labeled as troublemakers, while the tormentors faced few consequences. In 2008 Bear Stearns was sold to JPMorgan but Maureen Sherry continues her story to create awareness that two decades later fewer than 2 in 10 female harassment victims ever file a formal complaint. Maureen and so many women have so much work and battle ahead of them.

Striking has also been how rather limited church support there seems to be for the #metoo movement. Most of us know this is no surprise, with many churches still promoting submission of women, perpetuating certain gender taboos, preserving dynamics of secrecy and oppression. Unfortunately, our Christian narrative hasn’t always been clear on gender equality, despite the explicit statements such as “In Christ, there is no male or female” (Galatians 3:28). Gender division or inequality should not have any place amongst Christians.

The Gospel of today is a case in point that illustrates the wrestling that it takes to align cultural preferences with the core of the Good News. While bible scholars try to make the best of it, it remains the case that the female figures in this story are still rather tightly identified with the submissive position, keeping the traditional cultural metaphor of female passivity in place. But then the text takes a surprising turn, when the wise are praised for not share their oil. (For once Jesus is promoting not to share, a shock for the Sunday School curriculum). Meaning, the metaphor of the oil in our lamp points to the importance of self-care. And when it comes to self-care we are first responsible for ourselves. We need to cover this need, no sharing can be of much help. Contrary to the traditional self-sacrificing stance that has been imposed on women for centuries, this Gospel encourages the same women to prioritize self-care. For that time, self-care was a very novel concept, especially as an attitude to promote among women. Even today this is rather new, certainly in many Christian circles.

It is a message that Christianity has struggled to proclaim. Love to God and to others, yes! But that as Christians we should help and promote everyone to secure self-care, healthy self-protection and promotion of our own dignity, especially for women. That concept is still sinking in.

The truth is, Christianity has enough intellectual pointers and behavioral marching orders to claim radical change. Ephesians 5 is the most explicit text regarding male-female relationships. Similar wrestling with culture colors the text, but the opening principle is revolutionary up until today: “Submit yourself to one another out of reverence of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Not just women but also men are called to submit to service, dedicating ourselves to each other so that we all can care for our own dignity and equality.

To apply this call to service we have to address that this “service” and “equality” talk easily risks  sounding like a platitude after so many centuries of failed practice. But with clear theory in hand we can now turn to the failed practice to address the change we need. We have to help our fellow Christians who struggle with this text. Because, even though this message has found its way into mainstream culture to strive for the care and full dignity, equality, and freedom of every person we encounter, we continue to see many Christians, men, ready to hang the ten commandments in city halls, who actively perpetuate socio-political structures of inequality, whether in the realm of race, gender, or in socio-economic environments, contradicting their own message.

In very concrete ways, as Christians we not only should commit ourselves to end any gender inequality, but also to proactively prevent gender wars and promote from early age on healthy understanding about who we are called to be. Women should have the right to hammer into the glass ceiling. But man should have the courage to remove it, wherever they find themselves building such divide and oppression. Christians, both women and men together, should contact HR departments.

Beyond any politics or progressive versus conservative fold-lines, the Gospel of today is calling every Christian to secure self-care, care for the soul and for the body, for the dignity and equality including gender inequality. Because we teach others how to treat us. We need to come to terms that, if we fail to create a context of care that helps each other in this core self-care of our being, then we sow the seeds of resentment and oppression, that in turn create gender wars, self-fulfilling schemes of relational failure. Whether we go for politics of care, advocacy for human capital, in our time it should be evident that, of course we need to rally for each other, to end race and gender oppression.

My point is also: we receive almost daily reports that computer scientists are coming closer and closer to human-like AI – artificial intelligence, with robots soon taking over most basic labor functions. Isn’t it time that we also apply similar research to the human fabric of our daily lives, to design a context of living that secures as best as possible the advancement of the wealth and dignity that resides in each of us. The promotion of our human capital also contains a goldmine of economic potential.

Or in other terms, if we aspire to reverse the cultural decline we sense, then we need to face the call of our times, that our Western culture needs to face its own historical baggage, its social and existential traumatic and inconsistent structures. And if we do so, our culture will regain its strength, we will create a revival.

Practically, Christ is calling each one of us to secure self-care, holistic awareness and assertion of your value in this world, to proudly claim our dignity, with its gender or color. And all of us are called to pray and labor to give each other the space to do so. Let us keep our lamps trimmed and burning.

Amos 5:18-24
 Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

 

Summer Sermon Series

June 25, 2017

When challenges come our way and external resources are not readily available, people wonder about how to gain strength. With today’s cultural changes and prolonged delay of general economic growth, many people are at times puzzled about what next step to take.

Examples of the past can bring inspiration. People like Moses or Mary, catacombs Christians, or the leaders of our country’s 1776 revolution often had to create strengths without many external resources available. This is how people often committed themselves to inner strengths, also called virtues. The most prominent ones have been listed as “cardinal” virtues: prudence, courage, justice, and temperance. These personal qualities create tremendous value on a personal level and for the community and, however desired they may be, they cannot be bought. Besides the cardinal ones, there are also “theological” virtues, inner strengths that are developed through our connection with God: faith, hope and love.

These inner strengths belong to the core of what relationships and communities need, what character building is all about. Needless to say, these virtues deserve some further reflection, which is why our summer sermon series will take some time to reflect on them.

Sunday June 18: Introduction to the virtues
Sunday June 25: Prudence
Sunday July 2: Courage
Sunday July 9: Justice
Sunday July 16: Temperance
Sunday July 23: Faith
Sunday July 30: Hope
Sunday August 6: Love

2017 Strategic Planning for Trinity’s Future

June 18, 2017

Sunday June 25, after the 10 a.m. morning Eucharist.

In order to explore options for growth, it is very important that we hear the views and thoughts of everyone connected to our parish.

As a first step, I propose that we meet for a parish-wide conversation about the future of our church. We strongly encourage all members and friends of Trinity Church to join us for this planning conversation in the Church’s Undercroft on June 25, after the 10 am service.

Summer Planning Meetings

June 4, 2017

Trinity’s ministries are rich and thriving. We all are very grateful for so many blessings and service to share. To plan our upcoming year of ministry, all are invited to join the following planning meetings, especially if you are engaged in one of them particularly. The meetings will focus on the calendar of events and meetings, on the coordination of communication by ministry team, on feedback, and on outreach with the wider community. We have six ministry teams at Trinity:
1) Liturgy & Spirituality,
2) Music and the Arts [including Trinity Players and Poetry],
3) Care [including Pastoral Care, Homeboard, Holiday Bazaar, WednesdayClub..],
4) Christian Education,
5) Outreach, and
6) Building [Properties and History].

Meetings are set for the following dates in the Undercroft:

–Monday July 10, 5:30pm: Trinity Care, including Pastoral Care, Wednesday Club, Prayer Circle, Holiday Bazaar, Supper Club coordination.
–Friday July 14, 6:30pm: Music and the Arts, including Music Committee, Poetry coordinators, Trinity Players
–Monday August 14, 5:30pm: Outreach, including Chapel on the Green, Spiritual Fellowship, Community Works, Trinity Grants
–Sunday August 20, 11:30am: Christian Education, including Sunday School, Sunday Forum, Bible Study groups
–Monday August 28, 5:30pm: Trinity Building, including Sextons, Properties, History Ministry, Outside Flowers
–Monday September 11, 5:30pm: Liturgy and Spirituality, Liturgy Committee, Spirituality group, Acolytes, Lectors

Emmaus

April 30, 2017, The Rev. Luk De Volder

Emmaus Sermon 3 Easter 2017 pdf

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-171; Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

Their eyes were kept from recognizing him. There are moments in life when we can’t see straight anymore, while we are hoping for some liberation. We can’t find a way to escape out of our frame of mind. At times, real life can have a lot of disillusion, an inventory of bruises and scars, lost hopes, and evaporated dreams. Especially in this season of church decline and political turmoil we may go home at times and wonder: where did all the heroes go? Is there nothing sacred left? Was God not supposed to intervene once in a while?

This past week I attended a Diversity and Integrity training at the Visions worship up in Boston, promoted by our bishop Ian Douglas. I learned a lot, most of all that there is still so much to learn. Most visionary and revealing to me was this one conversation I had with Lawrence, an African-American man in his mid-Twenties, with a heart of gold, a disarming honesty, and remarkable resilience. He decided to share his story with me. Lawrence is the youngest of 7 children, but the only one with a college degree, which gives him tremendous responsibility. Recently the national wave of lay-offs at Macy’s department stores also affected his managerial job. I confess, he said, it triggered in me the reflection of system beating. At first, I thought, the HR system had selected me out because of my color. But now, he told me, I can see how this is mostly due to internalized oppression. I am not denying that at times I do experience exclusion in life. But after internalizing these experiences, I can also frame my own choices in that negative narrative. After reading scripture I come to realize I always have the freedom to step outside of those framing and limiting mindsets. Do you see what I mean? he asked. I was blown away by his honesty, his self-awareness, and his willingness to address what he learnt about himself. And he added another question: do you see internalized oppression in your life? Bam – What compassion & empathy for a white male he had only known for a day or two. I was so moved. We talked for much longer about the future he is hoping to build, the loss of friendships he experiences because he has a college degree, and the support he needs to help others. I couldn’t help but notice our hearts burning. We both walked away, fired up, with a deepened willingness and new insight to address the realities of oppression in our own lives and around us. This conversation made me realize how much frame of mind is keeping conversations about race from evolving; how much certain mindsets could be changed by these kinds of conversations.

The striking part of my conversation with Lawrence was, like the Emmaus-disciples story, we were two guys who went on and on. Men talking about their issues? Our pity-duet, like the despair litany of the Emmaus-disciples, took off, not so much because we like to complain or think we have a license to wallow, but because the anxieties and tensions of all the expectations I fail to meet are running through me, the shadow-side of my personality, all of this can make me feel like life is not clicking, as if my life is at a stand-still. A church without a success Messiah, a life without a career, Where do I go? As burned-out employees, these two Emmaus-disciples are at a stand-still. How do they get their lives back on track?

Luke’s record of what happened on the walk away from Jerusalem, away from the place where God is, shows three steps of recovery and liberation: 1) feeling heard, that someone listens to you; 2) interrupting and transcending our own limited narrative; 3) seeing what you see.

First there is ample time to tell your story, so that you feel heard. This is not simply a matter of feeling understood. It is a moment during which we start to sense that the shadow-side of life, our short- comings, weaknesses, anxieties, do not need to be kept in hiding. In fact, grace is seeking to avoid that split in us, between the ideal me and the failed me. Rather, this is a moment to integrate my shadow- side. God is hoping to embrace me, also in the parts where I feel the Messiah is gone, those parts where I see no light or hope at this moment. Arriving at church should indeed be about your issues, should include where it hurts, where you are angry and sad, what matters to you right now.

Second: Jesus intervenes. O ye fools. It seems at first Jesus didn’t read the communication guidelines to avoid as much as possible the use of ‘but’. You did a great job, but. We like you at the office, but. Oh, that fatal but. In Jesus’s defense, he didn’t say “but”. Nor is this a mere sneer. It is more like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings affectionately saying to Frodo and his friend: you my fools. In fact, the Greek word points to a deeper level: anoèntes can also be translated as “you who are unaware”. Haven’t you read the scriptures?

Faced with a crisis of confidence and hope, the story invites us to match it with a practice of inserting a perspective from outside our frame work. Jesus’s move is a bit like the exercise of Ludwig Wittgenstein showing his students a drawing of a rabbit and when he turns the drawing you see a duck. Wittgenstein’s question was: is this a drawing of a rabbit or a duck. Neither, he said. The lines we choose are the framework we decide on.

At times, we indeed can be so stuck in a frame of mind that renewal is not possible. It takes a kind of mental intervention that lifts us out of that framework to help our awareness to wake up and see that we have the freedom to see things differently, to stop the tape of negativity in our heads. The spiritual practice of reading scripture with Jesus is indeed this moment of increased awareness through which we allow ourselves to be lifted out of our own frame of mind. This is why bringing the book into the middle of our church is meant to express scripture coming into the middle of my life.

Third: the scene goes from a side-by-side conversation to a sit-down dinner. Now the conversation rolls into a face-to-face experience. I no longer have to hide my shadow side, my framework, and my tape repeating my limited conclusions on life has been paused. Now the meeting turns to what Charles Péguy once voiced: See what you see. Only when bread broke in front of their eyes could they realize what they were staring at – the loss, the decline, the finality of it all, and what prevented them from really seeing. And all of the sudden the broken bread created the opening to look beyond their cherished insights and ways of seeing things into a presence. As it happens at dinners, in the experience of eating and being together, a warmth manifests itself. The food is an expression of the bond. We may even sense a certain excess, a sense of exceeding, an evocative sense of communion. Being together just became poetic. The different parts of life have just reach a point of integration. This is why the breaking of the bread, over and over again, is so crucial. In it we are willing to break up our outlook on the world and allow the perspective of grace to insert itself.

As a result, the disciples recognize him. The next thing you know, they are walking again. There is renewal, recovery. There is liberation. Ever since, Christians have followed the same pattern each Sunday: expressing where they are in life; reading scripture as if Jesus is telling us; breaking bread to create communion and an opening in our minds and hearts. There is mission. Let’s do this, live this, carry out this liberation. The Christian writer Max Lucado wrote a book entitled: “It’s not about me.” Sorry Max: It is about me. He has a point against narcissism, but the title is misleading in suggesting that coming to church and having faith would not be about my needs. Christ died for me. In that sense, it is about me.

Also, as it turns out, these steps of practice were never meant to be a ritual only. These are moves of liberation, to come as you are, to spill all your c-r-a-p, to integrate your sense of failure into a path of hope. By allowing the voice and perspective of the Other – with capital O – to come in my life, I, in turn, am lifted up outside the confines of my own reservations, anxieties and limited thinking and I return to the world with an open heart, a heart that is healed and strengthened. Or in more classical terms: the presence of the Lord, not only brings me salvation, Jesus also empowers me to bring others into the hope of love and trust. I hope these practices of liberation will also for you remain fresh, unlock your heart where needed, turn your life back into gear. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Love Bade Me Welcome

March 12, 2017

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But Quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d anything.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

George Herbert..

Grace Awakening 2

February 26, 2017

Why Grace Awakening you may ask? At Trinity our community is acutely in tune with the needs of our time. And it’s been a tough period for many people, with many still facing distrust and lost faith in institutions. So maybe it’s time to listen to each other, listen to our inner voices and remind each other of what is best in us, of our American values, our democratic ideals, and the joined Abrahamic roots we have in common in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

Honoring and rediscovering the grace that is already among us will rekindle in us the power of a new beginning. We will find again a way to build community,  not built on some big idea or on a complicated 33-step program to happiness, but based on the simple practice of waking up to the beauty of grace present all around us, in all of us. Reminding each other of the gift of this world, of our bodies and souls, of our commonalities and differences we have the amazing potential of coming together in resolute hope and bathing in the Grace, regardless of our background or preferences.

It is this Grace Awakening that we would like to promote in this year’s season of Lent and Easter time at Trinity, as a community, with a series of speakers, times of prayer, and concrete opportunities for community engagement.

We indeed seek to support community leadership among us and to embolden each other to raise our prophetic voice in a time when our society again needs this, a voice to defend the oppressed, the refugee, people burdened by poverty or suffering from addiction. Through our community leadership each one of us can help to reconnect with a culture of healthy civic engagement and political dialogue. From the perspective of Grace Awakening this engagement is self-evident, a natural part of our calling to see and restore Grace in each other and ourselves.

And so we pray that Christ may guide our steps while we reach out to each other to awaken this power of Grace.

Grace Awakening 1

February 19, 2017

With or without God? The contemporary wrestling with the God factor could be a variation on U2’s song, With or Without You, that continues with the line:  I can’t live, with or without you? At some level contemporary culture is trying out life without God, but simultaneously there is a hunger to reconnect with God again.

Long before political change was added to our daily diet of change digestion, we already have been meditating on vast changes that our culture and our churches are going through. These waves of change include our sense on how to find God in our day and age, on how to live spiritually centered in our world that looks so different than the Biblical days.

2017 is the celebration year of 500 year Reformation, Martin Luther hammered his copy of the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle church door. Reading this copy today, the words sounds surprisingly fresh. They resonate with our culture and church that is hungry for renewal, while finding ways to preserve what we find essential.

At Trinity we are joining this longing for renewal, but rather than pitching another Great Awakening, a movement that was apocalyptic, focused on guilt, atonement and the evil status of the world, we decisively seek to reconnect with the hope and profound goodness expressed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. That founding document of Christianity brought a Grace Awakening, a sense of hope and new beginning in an age overflowing with change.

Our season of Lent and Easter at Trinity will focus on this Grace Awakening, through speakers, prayer meetings, reflections. Thanks to all collaborating with our Grace Awakening experience at Trinity.

Blessed Snow!

February 12, 2017

Blessed Snow! I realize the snow storm may have caused harm, may have thrown our schedules off, but there is also another side to the nor’easter. There is barely any other event that brings people into the streets these days, that binds people in our neighborhoods, or that even stimulates people to ask for help, because their snow blower ran out of gas or they need more milk for the kids. That community side of the snow is a blessing and you can tell it by looking at people’s faces: all smiles.

Rekindling this sense of connection among people might be one of the side effects of the current climate in our country. More and more people are reaching out to each other to find ways in which they can embolden each other, they can shoulder other people’s needs, or rally together, as if they are going through a snow blizzard. That community part is positive. Because, while our age of institutional decline did start a while ago, it took some time to realize that whatever institution we are taking about, state or church, presidency or media, they all rely on the corner stone of society: the people. “We The People” isn’t simply a slogan or a claim, it is also a truth on how humanity advances, is protected, and might excel.

If I may, this sense of people power is also part of our Christian movement and it has been from its early days. Fairly quickly followers of Jesus started talking about the “work of the people”, “lit-urgia”, or “liturgy”. Today “liturgy” is the churchy term for worship, but it was the Christian way of calling worship service what it is in truth: not the privilege of a holier few or a richer elite or a spirited worship band, but the service of grace finding implementation in all people and through all people. “Liturgy” isn’t simply a slogan or a claim, it is also a truth on how humanity advances into humanity, how humanity is protected and how humanity may secure the bond of dignity in God.

And if snow is helping people to connect and stimulating us to reflect on this “work of the people”, I say: blessed snow.

Kidcity

February 3, 2017

What is one to do in this political season? Many of us are reaching a point of exhaustion regarding the high-level tension in the national political ‘conversation’. Many others are ready for action and are calling all leaders to join in.

The main concern of churches should be pastoral and ethical. Pastoral includes caring and praying for all in need, regardless, including for our political leaders, which is a Biblical tradition. The equally Biblical ethical concern includes a permanent call for justice, outreach to people in peril, and advocacy against oppression. But the general conversation, or what is left of it, is spilling over into deafening hate speech, hardening positions beyond the audible reach of the voice of these concerns.

To address this situation, much more will be needed than can be expressed in this enews format. But one thing we all need in these days is a break from the political frenzy. What are the chances to get such a break? Our family decided to go to Kidcity, the children’s museum in Middletown, CT. It was the best escape strategy for the week. The “museum” transports children and adults alike into different universes of the farm life, the ocean world, or the excitement of the 1950’s. To see the children interact with smoke and bubble machines, carrots gardens or loaves of bread made us see once more how much promise, potential, and joy is coming into these children’s lives.

Back in the car ride home our smartphones were immediately telling us again about the latest political issues. But our Kidcity experience made us realize right away the deep need we all sense to find a community and a country that creates the same room of promise, potential and joy for our children. Of course we cannot transform the reality of daily life into a Kidcity dreamland. But there are multiple opportunities. One example is the McKinsey Company that calculates the value of such promise and potential when addressing the question of women’s equal pay. Their conclusion is stunning: advancing womens’ equality would add 12 trillion dollars to the global growth.  (http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/how-advancing-womens-equality-can-add-12-trillion-to-global-growth)

My prayer today is that we find more of these experiences and studies that contribute to promise and joy for the future of all.